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How Food Prices Affect Obesity

Posted Dec 03 2012 11:00am

  medium 7771198588 300x200 How Food Prices Affect Obesity Obesity is a complicated condition, which explains part of the reason it is so difficult to control. Economics play a role both as a cause and an outcome of obesity.

Understanding these factors can show how challenging it is for both the individual and institutions to get a handle on it. Obesity, after all, is the second leading cause of preventable death.

Price Factor

None of us are naive enough to believe that prices wouldn’t go up. With so many things influencing them, the inevitable happens. If you look at the nuances of price changes on food, you will find some startling facts that show an economic force behind obesity.

In the book, “ The Fattening of America: How The Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What To Do About It  How Food Prices Affect Obesity ,” authors, Eric Finkelstein and Laurie Zuckerman, show the economic side of obesity that further complicates following a healthy lifestyle. The problem lies with food prices.

According to Finkelstein and Zuckerman, a widening gap between the cost of healthy and not-so-healthy food choices has occurred since 1983. For example, prices for fresh fruits have increased by 190 percent; fresh vegetables have risen 144 percent. Price changes are one thing; however, the increases have not been the same across the board.

During the same time period, sugars and sweets have risen 66 percent, while carbonated beverages have increased by only 32 percent. Unhealthy food choices are cheaper, making the cost of  eating well higher.

Factors Affecting Food Prices

So many factors come into play when trying to explain the disparity. Simply put, manufacturers can produce processed foods cheaper than farmers can grow fresh produce. Cost is just as much a driving factor on the business end as it is on the consumer side.

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you may opt for less healthy choice to keep costs down. You may not want to make these choices, but you may find you have few choices when it comes to feeding your family. Budgeting can become more difficult for those on a fixed income or relying on food stamps.

Healthy Eating Strategies

As a consumer, you have some options. You can grow your own produce. Plants like cherry tomatoes can grow well in pots. You can use a grow light to keep them indoors for fresh fruits and vegetables year round.

Another thing you can do is to buy local. You will likely find that the produce tastes better with the extra time in the ground before picking. Producers can offer lower prices because their costs are reduced.

The smart shopper will also take advantage of sales of low-sodium canned products or frozen vegetables. The quick processing time for these foods means a healthier product.

Finally, you can revamp your diet and eliminate unhealthy choices like soft drinks and allocate that money toward healthier choices. A cold turkey approach is best: sugars and fats are addictive on a par with drugs of abuse, explains a study by Princeton University in New Jersey.

With the vast array of choices open to you, it takes a lot of willpower to control your diet. The price differences between healthy and unhealthy foods don’t make it any easier. With a little planning, you can overcome some of these barriers to good health and avoid the consequences of obesity.


Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. (2009). Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have Notable Differences in Addictive-like Behavior. Journal of Nutrition, 139(3), 623-628. doi: 10.3945/​jn.108.097584

Robert E. Brolin, M.D. and Gloria N. Beck. (2005). Obesity second only to smoking as preventable cause of death . East Carolina University.

Eric Finkelstein and Laurie Zuckerman. (2008). The Fattening of America: How The Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What To Do About It. Wiley.

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